ISL Road to semifinal: Off-colour Bengaluru needs to find itself

Table topper Bengaluru FC will look to put its poor run of results behind it when it takes on NorthEast United FC in the first semifinal of the Indian Super League 2018-19 season.

Bengaluru FC will look to put its run of poor performances behind it in the first semifinal.   -  AP

For a second consecutive season, Bengaluru FC has finished on top of the Indian Super League table. But this campaign has been about the team doing just enough – in the final matches especially – rather than being the dominant force it was last season.

The Blues started the season strongly, winning eight of its 11 matches and losing none before the league paused for the international break. This run, in fact, is the longest unbeaten streak in the ISL history.

The seven matches that followed the break saw an entirely different side of Bengaluru. It won just two matches – against playoff off opponent NorthEast United and FC Goa, while conceding fourteen times. To put that into perspective, the team conceded just 16 goals in the whole of last season.

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There were several reasons for the bad form, the main being coach Carles Cuadrat choosing to heavily rotate his side even before the team's playoff qualification was confirmed. The reason, according to Cuadrat, was to keep players fresh as the squad had dealt with quite a few injury issues throughout the season.

The Cuadrat era

When Cuadrat replaced the hugely popular Albert Roca in the summer, he had a big task facing him. He took charge of the ISL finalist and the Super Cup holder but things did not go smoothly for the Spaniard initially. A mixed pre-season and defeats to Turkmenistan side Altyn Asyr FK, home and away, in the AFC Cup Inter-Zone semifinal, saw him start his reign on the worst possible note. The easy-on-the-eye football that was seen under Roca, along with the defensive stability, seemed to have vanished over the summer leaving the fans unhappy.

It has been a far from perfect season with Bengaluru FC for Carles Cuadrat.   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

All critics were however silenced on the opening day of the ISL season when Bengaluru won 1-0 at home to defending champion Chennaiyin FC. While the style still hadn't improved much, a win against Chennaiyin lifted spirits among players and fans alike. Following a draw against Jamshedpur, the team went on to win the next six games – a run of form that saw it firmly establish itself as a frontrunner for the title.

The possession-based approach was replaced by a gritty, straightforward style. The team managed to eke out wins even when it wasn't playing at its best. With star striker Miku injured for most of the season, it was understandable as to why Cuadrat opted for pragmatism.

 

 2017-18 season2018-19 season
Goals scored4029
Goals conceded1622
Clean sheets58
Passes97127563
Shots241220
Touches1235710041
Tackles471357

 

Player to watch out for

Sunil Chhetri has shouldered scoring responsibility for much of the season in Miku's absence.   -  K. Muraili Kumar

 

Sunil Chhetri: The club and country skipper – the only player to play for Bengaluru in all seasons of its existence – has done well to shoulder the absence of Miku for most of the season. He is the top scoring Indian, with eight goals, and could play an important role if Bengaluru is to qualify for the ISL finals again. With Miku back, he will move to his favoured left wing role where he will get the freedom he likes to thrive alongside the Venezuelan and Udanta Singh. After being rested regularly in the final league games of the season, he will be fit and fresh to take his team one step further this season.